It’s over 40 years old but Jesus Christ Superstar still packs a helluva punch.
The Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical is back out on tour and spreading the word around the UK. On Monday night it opened at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate and it looks as fresh as a daisy.
There’s nothing subtle about this show. It’s a big, noisy, in-your-face blockbuster that features, arguably, the best soundtrack ever written by the pair.
The Rice-Webber names are so much a part of this country’s musical history that it’s astonishing that they actually only wrote three musicals together – and two of them were about characters from the Bible (the third was Evita if you’re wondering).
What is also amazing is that a teenage girl sitting near me had never even heard of Jesus Christ Superstar much less the illustrious names who created it. Time can be cruel.
She was coming at it with totally new eyes while my jaded pair last saw the God-Rock spectacle a whole ten years ago.
Little has changed other than, perhaps for budget restraints, we appeared to have lost a disciple at the Last Supper (Philip was a no-show). Is this blasphemous, tinkering with something enshrined in a da Vinci mural?
Also not in the opening night were two of its stars. Former X Factor singers Rhydian Roberts, he of the white hair and eccentric costumes, and Rachel Adedeji, the show’s Mary Magdalene.
But their stand-ins are superb. If I was producer, Bill Kenwright, I’d consider ditching the names and giving them the roles full time.
Blonde, blue-eyed Jodie Steele made a stunning, if ethnically incorrect, Mary (though she beautifully complements the blond-haired Glenn Carter as Jesus).
Her rendition of I Don’t Know How To Love Him was a highlight of the first act, delivered with true emotion and power.
The bearded Johnathan Tweedie looked more like a stand-in for the designer-stubbled Tim Rogers who was playing the duplicitous Judas, than the distinctive Roberts.
But vocally he came out strongly in a role that only has a couple of key scenes.
Central to the story is, of course, Jesus Christ. Carter is now such an old hand at the part – playing it for years on stage and screen – that it’s a wonder he hasn’t developed a Messiah complex with being crucified and resurrected on a nightly basis.
GC, as JC, hits the high notes and can scream in tune like a thrash metal singer belting out songs at a rock festival.
As I said. Subtle it ain’t. Both Carter and Rogers overact during the betrayal and crucifixion scenes (did it really take Jesus so long to die on the cross or was Carter milking it?) while Tom Gilling’s brief show as the outrageous poodle-permed Herod is a joyous moment of camp bitchiness.
One of the most eye-catching performances comes from Cavin Cornwall as the Jewish high priest Caiaphas. He has the deepest bass singing voice I’ve ever heard and barely breaks into a sweat, using a slow measured gait around the stage and offering barely any facial movement. It’s a fascinating example of where less is more.
Tim Rogers looks like he’s wandered in from Game of Thrones with his leather trousers and ruggedly handsome looks.
He frequently snatches centre stage from Carter as the two play off each other and fight to make themselves heard above the rousing score.
The Webber-Rice style of having a totally sung production isn’t to everyone’s taste. Barely a word of straight dialogue is spoken and the characters have only lyrics to play with.
But what songs! And music. The show is blessed with a superb live orchestra under the direction of Bob Broad and the title music, Superstar, can bring on goosebumps.
There’s What’s The Buzz? Everything’s Alright, Herod’s Song, Hosanna and the big opening overture that sets the tone for the night.
If you haven’t seen JCS then go and if you have, then go again. You might need ear plugs if you’re sitting, as I was, right by the orchestra pit, but this larger-than-life musical with rock at its heart and God in its soul, is still a heavenly must-see.